Hailing from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, the Merasi (musicians) had been labeled as Manganiyars (beggars) and are considered untouchable, denied education, healthcare and political representation even today.
But on Friday, in Mumbai, they were welcomed and applauded at the Kala Ghoda Art Festival. For an hour, kids between the ages of seven to 15 years and their parents were introduced to the magic that these musicians created.
Smiles were visible on almost every face and the enthusiasm spread from the musicians to the audience as the young musicians got the crowd going to their entrancing folk music.
Love and passion for their music was written all over their faces as they performed. "Music is in our blood. We have composed, performed and maintained a distinct folk music legacy for 38 generations. Our children learn the music from a very young age," said Sarwar Khan, who leads the development of the Merasi singers.
The older musicians taught the kids about the names of new instruments and the younger musicians (7-16 years) shared their knowledge on how to play the khartal.
Some of the instruments used are the dholak, the bhapang, the morchang and the nagara. And then the fun part–the excitement and amusement of a few school kids reached its peak when one of the musicians got up and animatedly started teaching them a song.
While the audience enjoyed the catchy beats, "make sure you catch the expression of the little musicians," whispered Karen Lukas, the founder and director of Folk Arts Rajasthan. "Our songs are mostly sung in Jaisalmeri Marvadi as well as a few songs in Sindhi and weave the magic of the Rajasthani traditions and culture.
They tell stories of the community from birth to death and are sung at different occasions and festivals like Dusshera, Deepavali, Holi and also at the mandir of the devi, Rani Bhatiyani," says Khan.
So did the kids like their afternoon with the Rajasthani musicians? "I enjoyed the music," said the seven-year-old Kedar Parit. "He likes instrumental music," his mum adds. Another mum Meenal Gala, who's seven-year-old son, was a part of the audience said,
"He has seen these instruments for the first time. We don't come across these instruments otherwise. It's a good exposure and a chance to learn about his culture."